Tigers' ODI captain Mashrafe bin Mortaza added a feather to his cap Sunday at Buffalo Park, when he completed his 50th match as Bangladesh skipper in the ODI format. The Tigers however, failed to make the occasion a memorable one for their captain as they lost the third and final ODI against South Africa by a huge margin of 200 runs to concede a 3-0 series loss.
While still coming to terms with the series defeat, the charismatic skipper gave an interview to Dhaka Tribune
where he spoke in details about his days as the Tigers captain, his several injuries and comebacks, and all the ups and downs which he has encountered during his journey as perhaps the greatest leader of Bangladesh.
Here are the excerpts:
You have had a long career. How has been the journey so far?
There were a lot of ups and downs. If I had been the skipper from the very beginning then I might have captained my side in more games. Only recently did I know that I have achieved this milestone of reaching 50 matches as captain. I came to know from you guys (media). It has been a roller-coaster ride. Injuries were an obstacle. I was appointed captain at different times. This time around, I've been the skipper for quite a long time. Despite the ups and downs, I am satisfied.
A skipper has certain hope and expectation. After completing 50 matches as captain, do you think your goals have been fulfilled? How did you feel after being appointed skipper each time?
The three times when I was appointed captain, only once did I expect it. I felt okay, it is right that I got it. The first time, I was named skipper after a lot of talks and discussions. The second time, I replaced Shakib [al Hasan]. Third time was unexpected. As soon as we returned from the West Indies, I was suddenly given the responsibility. I didn't think about it at all.
Overall, if you talk about my dream, my only wish is to recover from the disappointment in South Africa. We didn’t perform at the start and end of the year. But during the middle of this year, we performed well. We played well in the away series and tournaments. We have started to perform well at home. Cricket these days has become like this. Every team win at home and lose away. The change that took place during this time in Bangladesh cricket is with regards to our performance at home. Previously, we couldn’t win at home but it has changed now. I’m satisfied with this. We dreamt that we would win 80-85% of our matches at home. We have been able to achieve this. Now the challenge for me as captain would be to win away. Nothing significant has been done so far in this aspect, and if we talk about recent times, even more so. We have lost three games here.
But this is not the end. We have more opportunities ahead. We have four-five away series in the near future. You can say my target is to improve in those series.
You started your captaincy duty against England. Bangladesh started off with a win. Do you think that made it easy for you for the challenges ahead?
I don't think about this particular aspect. In fact I have never thought about it. At the end of the day I still judge my own performance. I judge myself as to what I have done as an individual player. I haven't done anything in South Africa. This is very upsetting for me. I have three-four roles in the side. For instance, there is the issue of the players' mentality, which position they are in. Then, you have to lead the side to victory, you have to play well. You have to take good decisions on the field. Then there is your individual performance. So there are three things to take care of. It is of course difficult. If you can enjoy your roles, then it's good. But I never took pressure upon myself. In the last three years, I never thought captaincy would be taken away from me. When I was named skipper, I always tried to think. Previously, I was injured twice (during captaincy). That was my fear. My father influenced me. He told me, 'Do it, it will be good.' I had to follow my father's words. I didn't think about anything else.
The 2014 season was going badly for Bangladesh. There was change in leadership. The Tigers were up against a new proposition - two captains in as many formats. On top of that, there was your history with injuries. The team wasn't doing all that well. The 2015 World Cup was only six months away. It must have surely been a challenge for you to take up responsibility back then...
Of course it was challenging. In my first game as captain during that tenure, I think we were batting on something like 29 runs for the loss of four wickets. I think in the first ODI against Zimbabwe, Shakib scored a century. [Sabbir Rahman] Rumman made his debut, at the end he was unbeaten on 44, I think. I guess I could feel the challenge in that very first game. Secondly, the challenge that I faced back then, I'm still facing it now. We have come here and lost the Test matches, that is okay. But of course we have the ability to win in ODIs. We won five games there (Zimbabwe), but despite facing the same challenge here, we were unable to win a single match. You see, it was a challenge for me then and it was a challenge for me now. This is the truth. There will be ups and downs. You can't always win. But we have to come out of this. We have to think differently as to what we can do that might help us to overcome this situation. Back then it was a challenge and now it would be different, that is not the case. You have different expectation when you enter the field. The Bangladesh fans who follow cricket, they have a lot of expectation. A lot. If you keep that in mind then you have to accept that there will be analysis of your game. Where you are doing wrong, what you are doing correctly. Not only captaincy, you have to think about the players' mentality. Sometimes a break helps you. For example, the team are doing badly at the moment. We are in need of a break. It's not like we won't get a break. You will see that the team will come out of it. Because, there will be both good and bad times.
Despite the tough times, you led the team to the World Cup quarter-finals. The Tigers also defeated the likes of Pakistan, India and South Africa. You must have felt good back then...
I felt really good at that time. But I always told you guys during the press conferences that this bad time will come. It was inevitable. It's not like these bad times would never have come. I noticed this in all the big teams of the world. But now I want to see how we turn around from our latest situation. We felt good at that time, now we are feeling down. Two different situations. It remains to be seen how we overcome from this situation. But I’m sure we can overcome it, and very soon.
After such a great start, the expectation must have been great?
I can't disagree. You get to feel it yourself. When you see your team winning, then it will be tough for you to digest a defeat, whatever be the condition and wherever you play. I knew a few people might have thought we wouldn't be able to perform here. But we had expectation of playing well. I was targeting a win here, which I have been unable to do. But we can't stop here. We have to turn around from this. I'm sure these bad times won't last.
Do you think leaders are born, and not made?
If someone doesn't like something, I don't enforce it upon him. On the field, off the field it is the same. I always want someone to be in their comfort zone. I do the same with my family. If I can't create a comfort zone, I won't be able to share my thoughts. You always have to create a comfort zone for someone, then you can talk with him. I think like this on the field. Say, wind is blowing from one side, we have to think what will be suitable for a particular bowler. I try to keep them in their comfort zone. If I'm unable to give someone what they want, I explain it to them. I discuss this on the field, bowl like this for two-three overs. I don't believe that whatever I say will be seen as a speech. The thing is you have to share. The other thing is the comfort zone. At this level, it is very difficult to do something by force.
Besides instinct, a captain must also be innovative. What do you think regarding this?
You have to be your own man. You have to remain true to yourself. If you change, you will become artificial. You will be found out by the people surrounding you. After being appointed captain I thought I would do things my way. The Zimbabwe series awaited me after I got the captaincy. And then? World Cup, Pakistan, India and South Africa. Back then, if I had looked that far ahead, it would not have been possible to remain the skipper of Bangladesh cricket. If I had been beaten, then I'd have lost my captaincy. I would have been sidelined. So I didn't think about all of this. When a series came along, I thought about the first match, then the second, and finally, the third. And despite the bad times, I still had confidence in my players. I'm also confident with myself. When you go through a tough time, you have to find out how you can overcome it. Maybe it's not my sole responsibility. But since cricket is largely a captain's game, then you have to find out their mistakes, along with mine. We have to talk all together, which we will of course do now.
During your captaincy period, there were a few captains and vice-captains tasked with leading Bangladesh in different formats. Do you think they had it in them to lead the side?
In the last three years, I felt whoever wanted to be Bangladesh captain, and in order to be a Bangladesh captain, one has to have a lot of patience. One has to be extremely patient. Because the people around him are largely impatient. The game is like this, sometimes you perform way above your expectation. And sometimes not so good, like now. As a captain, you have to trust each and every single player. Outside that, there aren't that many remarkable players as back-up, who can be a fixture in the playing XI. I've said it before. We don't have many back-up players. Before they are prepared well, you have to continue like this. Main thing is, you have to be patient. Really patient. Like now, there will be criticism, you have to accept it. Keeping that in mind, you have to try to improve.
In that regard, who do you think has this quality of being patient?
In the end, everyone has to be patient. When a team fail to perform, then a particular player or the 15 members of the side don't really have much to say. But see, we also have to face you guys. After going home, we face our family as well. We have to face everything. We have to say something, like what happened on the field. This is hard. What will I say? There is nothing new to say. If I say something, people will think I'm giving excuses. This is our biggest problem. So at this moment, one has to be patient. Doesn't matter whether I see someone as patient or not.
Look at Steve Smith. He never thought Australia would face such a situation they are up against now. If you notice, he is mentally strong. He is trying with the rest of the team, how to come out of this situation. Those who are fans of Australia, they are growing impatient. Why is this happening to Australia? They have won the World Cup, the Ashes. Despite so many achievements, why are they faring badly? But, they are trying to work the situation out by being patient. We can't be impatient. We have to be patient as a team and work this out.
You have led the team from the front but sometimes do you feel performer Mashrafe is overshadowed by captain Mashrafe?
To be honest, when you are skipper, you have to have a lot of patience. When I do well and people don’t talk about it, I don’t think of it as a big deal. The most important thing to me is if the team is functioning well.
This is also a matter of patience. We have to really be patient. When you are judged but if you look at the performance graph and notice you're not really all that bad, then many things might come to your mind. But when you're the captain, you always have to think about the team's benefit. As long as my team are okay, I don't think about anything else. If you take these three ODIs as example, at the end of the day I'm also a player. When I think about this series, I'll know what is going on inside of me, and what I went through. I think luck didn't favour us. Maybe I could've bagged a wicket. A lot of things are missing. Thinking about the past will take me back further. When I played well, I didn't think about it too much. And now that I have gone wicketless in three ODIs, a performance that is not acceptable to my standard, I'll also not delve into it too much.
You are the leading Bangladesh wicket-taker in ODIs. There is a lot of talk about captain Mashrafe. But why do very few discuss performer Mashrafe?
I never think that way. The truth is, it never crossed my mind. In a way it has been good for me. Why, I can't say fully. The fact that there wasn't any discussion about me was not a big deal at all. I don't know the reason. But this is also true that people have given me a lot. I can't forget this. People love me a lot, I can't deny it. As for my bowling...in the last three matches, the fact that I am the highest wicket-taker of my country did not come to my mind. I always think about the welfare of at least 20 cricketers, I've always been mindful of it. I wanted to keep them in their comfort zone. It's not like I'll create a comfort zone for them after doing something bad. I tried to give them their comfort zone in order to bring out the best in them. If I had to sacrifice anything to take them to their comfort zone, then I've also done that.
Leaving the responsibility of bowling with the new ball to paceman Mustafizur Rahman...
2015 was perhaps my toughest year. When Mustafiz arrived, I gave the new ball over to him. That was my intention, to hand him over the new ball at the latter stage of my career. Given his ability, I knew he'd take wickets with the new ball. I got the results, not like I didn't. He dismissed Rohit Sharma quite a few times. He gave us early breakthroughs quite a few times. I think it was one of my achievements. Then I realised, I was really honest at that time. I gave the new ball to the best bowler of the side. Hence, despite it not being one of my strengths, I still picked up wickets with the old ball. When I think of it, I feel really good. That I was able to take the right decision by giving Mustafiz the new ball.
What is the toughest moment you have experienced as captain and when did you feel the most elated?
You can say this is my toughest time. Since the team have lost thrice in a row. It’s not that we were unbeaten in New Zealand. But at least we had possibilities there (of winning), despite losing in the end. But here (in South Africa), it has been different. Of course, this is a tough time. But it is also thrilling in some ways. Because if we can come out of this situation, the feel-good factor and satisfaction which we will get would not have been the same if the good times had continued. I always said, there will come a tough time and we have to know how to overcome it. Now that the bad times are here, I'm sure, with time, we will be okay.
Undoubtedly, there were countless good times…
With that said, I was really disappointed after losing to England last year. The same can be said about the Afghanistan defeat in the first ODI. Losing to India by one run in the World T20 as well. I didn’t think we would lose those matches. As for the England game, we lost from a winning position.
I felt those defeats paved the way for pressure to creep in. I don't know why but those defeats inspired me more. I really enjoyed it. Because people got to see what I am capable of, and what my team are capable of.
Any particular wicket or memorable bowling change come to mind?
There are many. If I think about it, then the third ODI against South Africa in Chittagong which we won. There were two decisions taken on that day. I gave away 10 runs in my first two overs. It's normal, a bowler is not taken away from the attack after conceding 10 runs. I don't know why but I felt the ball might spin a bit. I immediately brought on Shakib, and he picked up a wicket in his very first over. I needed to deploy spinners for a particular amount of time that day and I did it. [Mahmudullah] Riyad is still not a regular bowler these days. But I felt I needed to bring Riyad to the bowling attack. A few told me there was no need. I don't often change my decision, and my gut feeling said to bring him in. And right on at that moment, [Rilee] Rossouw was caught behind.
Another decision was taken during the (2017) Champions Trophy when I brought on Mosaddek [Hossain] to the bowling attack. A few like these.
One also has to be a leader in personal life, and off the field the well. What should be the role of a captain?
I think personal life should be a big thing. It has a lot of effect on sports. You can certainly think that if one doesn't think about his life, then what do I have to do? Actually, when it comes to us, we don't have that many back-up players. Even if I want something, I can't do it. Because it will not be right for me to do it. I will become dishonest knowing that I could have prevented someone from doing something, that might cause them harm, but still I didn't intervene. This is really important from the context of Bangladesh. Those who have possibilities to do well and also those who are doing well, it is necessary to assist them.
Did you ever receive guidance while bowling?
When I bowl, I forget that I'm the captain. I never think like this. This is my instinct. However, it is easier said than done. I'm lucky that it is instilled in me. When I bowl, I never think that I'm the skipper.
When I am sat down, I think of two things - my captaincy and bowling. I have to give time separately to these two things. When I go out on the field, I have to brief myself. Which bowler will suit a particular batsman. I do a rough sketch. Then I think about it for around 5-10 minutes.
As for my bowling, I give more time to myself for this. I think about it in details. The way you have set your targets, you might not be able to execute those as captain. These two things will effect you. You have to think about these two things.
How did you get on with the two coaches - Australia's Jamie Siddons and Sri Lanka's Chandika Hathurusingha - during your leadership?
This is very important. The coach will give you a plan. You have to accept it. But you might or might not agree with what the coach has to say. You have to establish your reasoning and point out that you were right. Then you have to accept the coach's decision. It's fine, I believe in my captaincy. The coach might think that since he's going out on the field, I will give him full support. Another thing is accepting a decision. You might think we could have done without a particular decision. Your thinking is vindicated after going out on the field. But you can't think that way. At the end of the day, I accepted the decision. If not, then why did I take the field? If you think anything differently then you have to back yourself. From the start of a game right till the press conference.
Can you shed some light on your relationship with Siddons and Hathurusingha...
They are two different people. When I was appointed captain during Siddons' time, I didn't get to read about it myself. After setting foot in England, I came to know from a team member that Siddons said, 'I don't know why he has been appointed captain.' That was a setback for me. I felt what's the use of being a captain when the coach himself doesn't know! Maybe he couldn't accept this.
As I already told you, I became captain all of a sudden. Didn't get to think about it all that much. And I didn't hear much about it from my surroundings. As far as I was told, I could do the responsibility. I was told that I would be able to bring my team out of the troubles which we were going through.
And as for this term, there were a lot of positives. I was called and given the responsibility for the very first time. And the next time I was named skipper, I was in Thailand (for wife's nose operation). The situation in which I got to know about it was different. I was given responsibility, this was my job. Back then, I felt the same.
But when I landed in England and got to know about what my coach had said, then it was normal that I became a bit shaky. The situation now is much stable. I was given the job. Now my task would be to change the situation around.
Did you ever play anyone in the starting XI by yourself?
Possibly it happened during the second ODI against South Africa. With Riyad. In the previous series he had broken his finger. It took him a while to recover. We were in two minds at that time. It was normal, given the situation he was in, whether he'd recover in time. Then I talked with him. He said he could do it. I trusted him fully. A few doubted, and it is not wrong for them to be filled with doubt. They were thinking about the team. He has just recovered from a broken finger, will he be able to make it? Bearing in mind his situation, everyone said if you want to pick him, then do it. He played, dismissed [David] Miller, and probably got out after scoring a fifty. That was very enjoyable for me. There are many more, but I can't say now.
There were initially doubts regarding your career. How did you cope with it?
The doubts were mainly regarding the injuries. Whether I’ll be able to cope with the injuries, whether I’ll break down. Not only the people who questioned me or my career, even my family and those close to me wondered whether I’ll be able to perform with pain. I’m really lucky. I think I was really determined back then. I didn’t doubt myself. Whenever I did something, I did it without any doubt. I took steps, if some of those decisions didn’t turn out to be good, I knew I could face the consequences. I had confidence in myself. At the end of the day, I have already mentioned that I believe in fate. And I believe fate has favoured me.
You have remained largely injury-free in the last three years. How do you feel regarding this?
My life has been all about luck. Not only cricket. I am on the verge of being 35 years old. I have thought about luck my entire life. It all started when I fell down from the second floor when I was a class five student. Since then, the luck factor has occupied my mind. After falling down, when I looked behind, I saw stones lying around. If I had fallen there, then I'd have been gone. From that time, I started thinking that the whole world goes by luck. If luck doesn't favour you, then you might die. Birth and death depend on luck, so this (injury-free run) is the same.
Do you have any role models?
Do you follow anyone?
Do you want to play till the end of your career as Bangladesh captain?
This will be a challenge. Sometimes I feel I should play without being a captain. While sometimes I feel things should be just the way they are at the moment. Since I didn’t think anything seriously all these days, let things be the way they are. I’m never fixed on any thinking. And I’m a big believer of fate.
Do you think you can reach a century of ODIs as Bangladesh captain?
I don't think so.
When you were appointed captain, did you think you needed to put more emphasis on fitness?
Even before being named skipper, I put importance on fitness. If you look back at the West Indies series, myself and Al Amin [Hossain] bowled really well. I was bowling really well then. Long before that I started concentrating on fitness. I did it to continue my career, and not because of captaincy. I underwent three operations in 2008, '09 and '11. After that I knew I had to fight in order to play. I have to work really hard. That's why I put more emphasis on my fitness. In order to be the captain, I never took any step in my life.
Many people ask me, what does it take to be a captain? I always say one thing, trying to be the captain is in itself a selfish decision. I always say this. If you want to be the captain of your class, that is also a selfish decision. I never tried to be the captain. What does it mean to be a captain? You want to be the boss of everyone. I think it is total selfishness. If the process is right and if luck favours, you will be the captain. When you do get it, then you have to be honest and give your 100%.
What is your ultimate goal?
The first ambition, I think, has been met successfully. If our win percentage at home was 10-20% back then, it is 80-90% now. We didn't want to force anything. I wanted to see what my teammates wanted, and they desired to win more than 80% of our matches at home. That instantly became my target. This became our goal. Me and my team have been successful in that regard. Second target was playing away from home. Since our first target was met, I'll try my best with the second goal as well. But the target of away games will not be achieved so soon, like the way we achieved our home goal. This is an even bigger challenge. You have to be mentally prepared. You have to take your skill to that level. This requires time, and patience. Even if everyone is not patient, this unit and myself definitely must have patience.
Looking ahead to the World Cup in less than two years' time...
I don't think of it as a criteria, for a captain or for a good team. If that be the case, then South Africa are not a good team. They are the No 1 side. But with the exception of a Champions Trophy title, they have nothing else. Despite the birth of a few legends, they were not able to win a title - I think this a question of the cricket world. In spite of that, they were No 1 in Tests, and are still No 1 in ODIs. And in T20Is, they are always among the top three teams. They are still leading the rankings. I don't think it (World Cup) should be a criteria.
I always want a good team, which can play well at home, and away. Which is very hard really. Cricket is now about two things - winning at home, and the opposition will wait for their turn to win at home. It is happening throughout the cricket world now. This is our challenge. We have won significant number of matches at home, now you can say our main challenge would be to win away.